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The Redbud City: Drama builds over county seat election

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
In early December of 1930, a group of active citizens met at the Aldridge Hotel to map out their strategy for the upcoming plebiscite for moving the county seat from Tecumseh to Shawnee.

RALLY STAGED BY COMMITTEE ON COURTHOUSE

A rally of enthusiastic workers in support of the county seat being moved to Shawnee met in the civic club room of the Aldridge Hotel on the night of December 2, 1930. The rally was to organize volunteer workers to go into every community in the county, gathering support for the coming plebiscite on the matter. The room was crowded with enthusiastic workers who volunteered their services.

Peyton Jennings, president of the Chamber of Commerce, oversaw the meeting. W.L. Chapman made the first talk, in which he stressed the need of work to be done in Shawnee. He said the rural communities were in good shape, except in isolated parts of the south end of the county. He said it would be necessary for every qualified voter in Shawnee to vote if the county seat was to be moved. Over the county, Chapman said, enthusiasm was growing in favor of Shawnee and was getting stronger. He suggested that Shawnee could easily win the election on December 17, if the residents of the city would only work.

TECUMSEH CHARGES FRAUD IN COUNTY SEAT ELECTION

The county seat committee of Tecumseh hired J.B. Dudley, Oklahoma City attorney, to contest the December 17 election to move the county seat to Shawnee. They claimed Shawnee used fraud in voting, intimidation of voters, illegal practices, and promises even to the extent of getting voters drunk. They filed an application for an injunction against moving the county seat to Shawnee before the state Supreme Court.

Tecumseh, defeated on the face of returns in Wednesday’s election, employed legal counsel in a final desperate effort to prevent loss of the courthouse, which the city held since the county was created. Dudley said he would rush into court to have the injunction issued before Governor Holloway could issue his proclamation declaring Shawnee the winner. Under the law, the county seat could be moved as soon as the proclamation was issued, unless a court order barred such action.

“I fear that history will repeat itself if we do not obtain an injunction before the proclamation is issued,” said Dudley. The delay was sought so Tecumseh could file a “quo warranto” contest of the election.

Report of the 94 precincts made at their meeting in Tecumseh at 10 A.M. Thursday gave Shawnee 13,744 votes and Tecumseh 6,739. On this number, Tecumseh lacked 88 votes of receiving the necessary number to prevent the transfer of the county seat. Figured on the 2-to-1 basis, Shawnee’s margin of victory was 265 votes less than needed for victory.

Dudley made his announcement as the ballots cast in the election made their way to Oklahoma City in a truck. Doyle Pope of Norman was designated by the inspectors as the commissioner of transfer of the ballots to the governor. Two motorcycle policemen, one riding in front and another behind the truck, escorted the ballots.

Governor W.H. Holloway ordered the ballots stored in the vault in his office and placed four uniformed national guardsmen on patrol to guard them against any possible molestation. Canvass of the returns began at 7 A.M. on Friday, December 19. Governor Holloway said he expected it to be ready for his proclamation of the outcome by noon.

Tecumseh had to obtain the temporary injunction before the proclamation was issued to prevent C.E. Pettigrew, county clerk, from receiving authorization for immediate removal of the county seat and other records to Shawnee before nightfall on Friday. Pettigrew said he was ready to move the seal as soon as he received official notice from Governor Holloway’s office.

Drama marked the placing of the ballot boxes in the governor’s vault. Policemen were present as large delegations from Shawnee and Tecumseh stood by. They gave evidence of some of the feeling that marked the election and climaxed a fight over a score of years for removal of the county seat.

“We defy them,” Charles Dierker and Fred H. Reily, Shawnee attorneys and campaign leaders, declared when Dudley said he would take the case to court. “There never was a more fair-election anywhere at any time.”

“We allege and believe,” Dudley told the governor, “that Shawnee may take the furniture, files, and other articles to Shawnee, and expend taxpayers’ money in providing for temporary quarters.”

Dudley said the petition alleged that voting had been illegal; that money was used to bribe and corrupt the voters; that Tecumseh was deprived of the right to have watchers and challengers in Shawnee; that inducements were held out by Shawnee through promise of a free courthouse site; and that votes were obtained where voters did not enter the booths or go to the polls.

E. Fay Lester of Wilburton, Vice-Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, told Dudley the court would accept the application on Friday morning.

Tecumseh employed the same tactics used in 1913, when the vote favored Shawnee, but a promise of a free courthouse site was held by the court to be bribery. “They are trying to thwart the will of an overwhelming number of the voters of Pottawatomie County for their own selfish interests,” Shawnee leaders declared. “We will fight them in every court they choose because we know we are in the right and we intend to make this fight end for all time the dispute over where our government will be located.”

Tecumseh campaign leaders remained silent throughout Thursday. All refrained from discussing the outcome of the election, except to say that Tecumseh would not concede defeat and submit to the vote. Several of the leaders appeared confident that Tecumseh would be able to win in court and did not voice any disappointment on the apparent result of the ballot.

Charlie C. Hawk, one of those directly connected with Shawnee’s efforts to register voters and get out the vote on election day, said Tecumseh had no grounds for any claims of illegal voting. “We lost several hundred votes because we were unwilling to take any chances where there was any doubt of a voter being eligible.”

Tecumseh may find that its own actions were more illegal than any charge they can bring against Shawnee,” another worker said. “We have a few instances of unlawful methods that Tecumseh employed that we may be forced to place before the court, if they think that is the place to settle this question.”

The new figures on the outcome of the election, as compiled by the inspectors, were substantially the same as those compiled the night of the election by the Shawnee Morning News. Tecumseh’s total was increased on the new tabulation, but no material changes resulted. One interesting fact was that the Tecumseh vote in Shawnee was reduced to 331 votes, while Shawnee cast 8,950 votes in its own behalf.

Clyde Wooldridge is a local historian.